Earlier this season I was talking to Bob Lewis about a catch-and-release fly tournament he was scheduled to participate in, which ultimately fell victim to COVID-19. One of the challenges that any catch-and-release event faces is how to measure a fish without doing it harm.
Personally, I believe once you slide a fish up on the rocks, as is common practice at the Big Ditch, or up onto a sand beach or, even worse, reach overboard with a Boga Grip or some other lip-grabbing device and pull the fish onto the deck of your boat, you have seriously diminished its chances of survival.
That’s why I am so interested in a new study that is being undertaken by the Bay State’s Division of Marine Fisheries. In 2011, the division’s former director, Paul Diodati, and Anne Richards published a paper with conclusions that have been used over the years to establish a 9 percent catch-and-release mortality rate. Fly fishermen argue their rate is lower because they handle the fish more carefully and often use barbless hooks, while I have heard some folks say that foo foo anglers play a fish too much and therefore stress it.
In the Diodati study, the researchers created an artificial environment (an enclosed salt pond) where fish were placed after being caught, not exactly a procedure that accurately mimics the “real” fishing experience.
The new study, however, will have acoustic tags implanted in its “subjects,” which will then be released into Salem Sound. There will be 29 acoustic receivers in the sound, and the goal of this research is to see how many fish survive for two weeks after being released.
Since fish swim and just might leave Salem Sound, acoustic receivers in other parts of the Bay State and even other states can pick the signal up. Swimming motion recorded by the tag will indicate survival, while the lack of it pretty much assures that a fish has died.
There are all kinds of issues and gaps in the research, such as when a bass survives the release, but is then eaten by a seal before the two-week period. I’ll leave it up to better minds than mine to make judicious use of any data they collect.
This season the study will focus on 175 bass caught with natural bait on both circle and J-hooks, while next year it will switch gears to determine the impact of artificial lures, as well as single and treble hooks.
According to Bruce Miller at Canal Bait and Tackle in Sagamore, there was a veritable flotilla out in Cape Cod Bay on Monday, July 6, the first of two commercial days each week, with Wednesday being the other. He was talking somewhere between 400 and 600 boats between the east end of the canal and the Fingers, mimicking the “floating city” that used to form dangerously close to the three-mile limit off of Chatham.
Bunker spoons, tubes and deep-diving Rapalas were all being trolled, with some boats even dragging—what else—Docs. Then again, most of the time this magic lure is cast in an attempt to lure fish to the surface through its magic motion and sound.
There are plenty of mackerel in the bay, as well as schools of pogies, and the wise angler will drift away from the crowd as he or she follows the bait and bass that move away from all the commotion.
Billingsgate is still holding mostly 24- to 26-inch bass, which aren’t much fun when they are dragged in on an umbrella rig or bucktail jig attached to wire line. But Bruce added that there are some 30-inch-plus fish in the mix, and it’s possible to use lighter trolling tackle and still get down to where the fish are.
There are typically plenty of schoolies around Barnstable at this time of year. A good morning or evening tide change will often get them revved up. On the other hand, during daylight hours any bigger fish in the area move off into deeper water. That said, drifting live eels at night around the channel and on higher tides up inside the harbor could produce a surprise or two.
Shore anglers in search of dinner have also been chunking from Scorton Creek to Sandy Neck, with macks the top choice followed by pogies. If you want to just enjoy yourself, unweighted soft plastics for spin anglers and sand eel patterns for the fly crew can’t be beat.
The big news in the Big Ditch is there has finally been some topwater action during the recent set of breaking tides. Bruce explained that the west end has gone quiet for the most part, with a few bigger fish scattered around among the schoolies, but it appears this school has either been picked over or moved through the land cut.
Around the east end, the wee hours through last weekend and earlier this week had pluggers happy. As the change in tide shifts more to mid-morning, it will be interesting to see what impact it has on the topwater bite. Bruce said yellow was the hot color on Tuesday morning, July 7, but anyone who fishes for bass long enough understands that they can shift their preference within a single tide, never mind from tide to tide or day to day.
A.J. Coots from Red Top in Buzzards Bay told me a couple of guys from the shop plugged up some nicer fish starting last Friday, July 3, and going through earlier this week. His suggestion was to check out the herring run area, but mobility is key with the schools moving east. Bright colors, including parrot or pink/white, worked well in their case, with squid still around, along with small herring and pogies added to the macks.
One of my favorite parts of talking to folks like the late, great Stan Kuzia was learning how their minds processed all of their experiences and helped them develop patterns that worked for them. For example, although most canal regulars are tossing pencil poppers during the topwater bites, Bruce likes to use Polaris-style plugs—but Stan always believed that you don’t break out the Polaris until August, Bruce explained. Maybe it’s because they have a completely different sound and movement that draws a fish’s attention when they get lazy in the August heat. But be assured that Stan had a reason for his preference.
Out in Buzzards Bay, the sea bass have apparently moved out into deeper water, making them a bit more difficult to target, but the scup action is still good and there are enough fluke around to keep things interesting. Serious fluke anglers are especially particular about the squid they use for strip baits, much preferring what is called “local squid,” which is harvested from nearby waters and retains all of the ink and other “juices” that produce a mini-chum line.
A number of people asked me if I have heard anything about bonito or albies. I’d like to say it’s a bit early, but the water is warming fast and it shouldn’t be long before they show at the Hooter. Meanwhile, Christian Giardini, the head man at Falmouth Bait & Tackle in Teaticket, has talked to a few folks who have been trolling around spots in Buzzards Bay that are known to hold king mackerel this time of year. I wouldn’t doubt that they have picked up a few but are keeping things quiet, as any good funny fish angler does.
Elise Costa from The Powderhorn confirmed that the sea bass have moved out into deeper water around the sounds, with shore anglers enjoying some decent scup action from the jetties and structures that help them gain access to deeper water, such as the town pier in Cotuit or the Dowses fish pier.
Fluke fishing in the sounds is okay, noted Jim Young at Eastman’s Sport & Tackle on Main Street in Falmouth. Kyle Rigazio took Tim Sample’s kids out earlier this week, and they managed some quality sea bass along the north shore of the Vineyard, along with good numbers of small fluke. Jim was kind of surprised about the fluke news, but given that the draggers were active in the area, that should signal an end to the fluke activity for a while.
The shoals are slowing for sure, although Middle Ground keeps surprising me. Jim said a young angler came in on Tuesday with a photo of a fish that looked to be in the mid-30-inch class, and overall the topwater bite has been okay. Evan Eastman recommended using bucktail jigs and weighted soft plastics in the deeper water around Middle Ground if you’re determined to catch a slot fish or two.
Live scupping in Woods Hole has been okay, while small squid appear to be on the menu when the schoolies are active. Jim Young heard there was a decent jig bite in Quick’s Hole.
It never fails to be the case, but Horseshoe Shoal is where most of the bluefish action is, relayed Amy Wrightson at the Sports Port in Hyannis. Generally speaking, people have been trolling swimming plugs, whether they are shallower runners, such as Bombers, SP Minnows and Crystal Minnows, or those that dig deeper and allow for faster trolling speeds such as those used when targeting bonito. You can typically tell the latter by their longer swimming bills, but in some cases all you have to do is look at the name, as is the case with the Yo-zuri Crystal Minnow Deep Diver or Rapala X-Rap Deep.
The shore fishing for bluefish is definitely sporadic. For some reason, the action has been better from Cotuit to Osterville over the past several years, while Popponesset and South Cape Beach have lost their mojo. I often wonder if it has something to do with all of the sand that New Seabury pours over their shorefront property in an attempt to defeat erosion, as well as the dredging in Popponesset that boaters pay for to keep the channel open, with the spoils piled up on the spit, only to disappear when a storm hits, thereby flattening the bottom structure and burying creatures that live in the area.
Fortunately, that isn’t an issue when you are heading out tuna fishing. Christian Giardini said fish out east of Chatham on up to the Golf Balls have been big—we’re talking 90 to 100 inches big. There are some smaller bluefin that you can cast to, but even a 60-inch fish can make you regret putting a plug into breaking fish. You can troll these bigger bluefin, but live bait such as mackerel, pogies, bluefish and bottomfish that can be jigged up on site are favored by plenty of tuna nuts.
Meanwhile, a few boats have made the run to the canyons where they have found yellowfin, according to Jim Young. Everything from small splash bars to ballyhoo, both naked and skirted, have worked. Some of the best advice I ever heard about setting a trolling spread is to have a little bit of everything in the water early on. If the fish show a particular preference after that, you can adjust on the fly.